Technology isn’t destroying our ability to communicate, cars are.
In most US cities, people rely on their car to get them where they need to go. Getting into our car cuts us off from people and our environment. We lose the luxury of random collisions. To interact with a diverse selection of people. These random collisions open our minds to new people, ideas, and perspectives.
By getting in cars we are essentially stepping into our robot suits. No longer do we have an emotional connection with the people around us. This plays out in several ways. First, when we pull up to a stoplight with and make eye contact with someone asking for money on the corner, our car makes us feel like we can hide and pretend we didn’t notice. Allowing us to have no emotional connection to this person who needs help. If we walk past the same person, we are forced to either help or say no. This creates a situation we can’t ignore. Even if we say no, we are emotionally affected by the experience and more likely to act next time.
Second, getting into our car helps remove any emotional connection to the drivers around us. Bad driving can put even the most even tempered person into a rage. Being in a car makes it easy to forget that. By and large, most cases of reckless driving are caused by people doing their best. Maybe they had an extremely long day. Maybe they are going through a difficult personal issue. Maybe it’s one of a million different circumstances that could cause someone to be distracted at any given moment. If a person bumps into you on the street and immediately apologizes, I highly doubt you will be thrown into a yelling rage because you’re connected on an emotional level.
Cars becoming commonplace offered people more options for living. Now you can live well outside of a city and commute to work. On the surface, it seems like a benefit but it drastically changes how cities are built and more importantly expand.
Instead of designing cities to be thriving communities, incorporating the natural environment and increasing health, we are building concrete mazes that no living creature can thrive in. We decrease the beauty of our cities, which has major implications on our happiness. As more jobs come to a city, more people want to work there. Developers have one of two options. Tear down current buildings and rebuild higher (which is expensive upfront) or build outward (much more common). As these suburbs are built and filled, shops and restaurants move into serve customers who live outside the city, decreasing the incentive to travel to the city’s core.
This is the downward spiral of urban sprawl. Pretty soon the local identity is split into factions. There are significantly fewer interactions of people from diverse backgrounds. The city begins to lose its energy and heart.
Now the question becomes how do we reverse this trend? How do we get people out of their cars and rebuild cities that thrive on emotional connection?